Editorial: To live a healthy life, you do not have to go to extremes

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Editorial: To live a healthy life, you do not have to go to extremes

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Dr Bertil Marklund’s book titled "The Nordic Guide to Living 10 Years Longer: 10 Easy Tips to Live a Healthier, Happier Life" was published in 2017 by Piatkus and has been translated into 27 languages. (Photograph: Bertil Marklund)
Dr Bertil Marklund

By Dr Bertil Marklund

Mon. 12. November 2018

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GOTHENBURG, Sweden: In his book The Nordic Guide to Living 10 Years Longer, Dr Bertil Marklund, a general medical practitioner and an adjunct professor at the University of Gothenburg, explains the importance of physical activity, diet and general attitude, among others, to prolong our lifespans. An entire chapter of the publication is dedicated to how good oral health is also conducive to general health.

You can greatly influence your lifespan
Thanks to the astonishing state of knowledge today, we know that we can greatly influence our lifespans and health through the lifestyles we adopt. Our genes determine at most 25 per cent, while our lifestyle defines 75 per cent or even more. We also know that the appearance of major diseases and ageing is caused by one and the same: inflammation, which occurs in our body in different ways.

As a general practitioner and researcher, I became interested in identifying the crucial factors of our lifestyles, which can strengthen the immune system and both slow down and prevent inflammation. I then found ten areas that had the potential to extend our lives for ten healthy years. These findings I compiled in my book The Nordic Guide to Living 10 Years Longer.

Significance of oral health to general health and longevity
One field that plays a role in inflammation and general health is oral health. As we know, there is a strong correlation between the two, and research has shown that people with healthy oral cavities live about six years longer than those with oral inflammation. Bleeding gingivae, periodontitis and oral lesions that last for weeks, months or years constitute an inflammatory strain for the entire body, resulting in damage to blood vessels and thus causing an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and premature death.

Therefore, in addition to brushing, it is important to keep interdental spaces clean to reduce the risk of periodontitis. Dental floss or other tools have been recommended worldwide, for example in the US since 1979. However, a few years ago, a debate on dental floss arose. US authorities considered the research showing the effect of dental floss on periodontitis insufficient. Nevertheless, dental floss is recommended by the country’s two leading dental associations, the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Periodontology. The associations relied on studies other than those included in the federal government’s review, claiming that flossing helps to prevent plaque, gingivitis and dental caries. Prof. Björn Klinge of Karolinska Institutet, a medical university in Sweden, said that there are generally very few reliable scientific studies in medicine and dentistry that demonstrate convincing value of different methods of interdental cleaning. However, according to Klinge, proven experience shows that dental floss and other similar tools help against periodontitis and dental caries.

Simple tips for a longer and healthier life
Another important tip that may result in a long and healthy life is regular exercise. It has been found that the major effect on health already occurs at 30 minutes of fast walking per day. It is just as beneficial to do housecleaning or gardening—in this way, you combine benefit with pleasure. You do not have to run a marathon; on the contrary, there are studies that indicate risks for this. Another important and new understanding of physical activity is to avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Sitting still is as harmful as smoking! Therefore, stand up and move around for a few minutes after 30–45 minutes of sitting.

Of course, diet also plays a major role in both dental and general health. The phrase “you are what you eat” is absolutely true. You can eat in a way that ages you quickly or slowly; it is up to you! My book includes many simple tips on how to choose a good diet, which ideally contains antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acid and fibre. The book gives suggestions for diets that suppress inflammation and strengthen the immune system. In addition to food, beverages have to be considered. Coffee, for example, though this is not widely known, contains beneficial antioxidants and has been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Other interesting tips are that optimists live seven years longer than pessimists, social contacts are important to maintain a good health and you should not forget to sunbathe for 15–20 minutes each day during the summer to absorb the vital vitamin D. Additionally, during the winter months, a vitamin D supplement may be of great value.

Changing your lifestyle is not the easiest thing to do because we tend to fall back into our habits. The most important and perhaps the most difficult thing is therefore to take the first step. This action will come more naturally if you begin with a habit that is easy to change. Therefore, the book is filled with simple tips that can be applied right away. The transition to a healthy lifestyle should not be a torment, but should be perceived as something positive and meaningful. This way, the new resolutions can be adhered to long term. Make sure you eat healthily, brush and floss on a daily basis—and experience how fresh your mouth feels—sit in the sun and have a cup of coffee and look ahead positively. As a result, the chances of your new choices becoming habits will increase.

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